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Stars come out for CNN Heroes ceremony

The Associated Press. Singer Carrie Underwood arrives at the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year ceremony Saturday night in Hollywood, Calif.

The Associated Press. Singer Carrie Underwood arrives at the 2009 CNN Hero of the Year ceremony Saturday night in Hollywood, Calif.

LOS ANGELES -- Kate Hudson, Pierce Brosnan, Neil Patrick Harris and other stars who are used to getting applause were giving it gladly at a ceremony honoring people who make a difference in the lives of others.

"I've cried twice and we're on hero three," Harris said backstage after introducing one of the 10 "CNN Heroes" celebrated Saturday by the TV news network for their efforts to fight poverty, disease and other problems.

"There are so many awards shows every year for the Hollywood community that participating in something as effective as this makes those others feel inconsequential" and provides perspective, said Harris, star of CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" and recent Emmy Awards host.

The top CNN Hero of the Year and a grant of $100,000 went to a young man who embraced education for himself and other Filipinos as an escape from poverty. He and the other honorees received $25,000 each.

As a child, Efren Penaflorida picked school over gang life in Cavite City and vowed to create a way for other children to make the same choice. He created a program that brings books to children in slums and on the streets, and the 10,000 members of his Dynamic Teen Co. have brought reading, writing and hygiene to 1,500 youngsters.

"My message to children of all races, please, to embrace learning and love it for it will embrace and love you back and enable you to change your world," said Penaflorida, now a 21-year-old college graduate.

"Each person has a hidden hero within, just have to look inside you and search it in your heart and be the hero the next one in need," he said in accepting the top honor.

Brosnan, honoring a woman who started an anti-breast cancer project, created one of the evening's most emotional moments as he recalled his late wife's failed battle against the disease. She was a "magnificent mother, a wonderful actor," he said of Cassandra Harris, who died of ovarian cancer in 1991.

"There are too many of us who have lost someone to this brutal disease called cancer, and we are all sick and tired of cancer winning," he said in introducing breast cancer survivor Andrea Ivory, who runs a mobile mammography project in Miami that provides free screenings.

The pair posed backstage for photos, Ivory glamorous in a gown with an oversized pink bow -- symbolic of the ribbons that mark the breast cancer battle.

"Stunning," Brosnan said, smiling broadly as cameras focused on her.

"You make me nervous," Ivory replied, but Brosnan would have none of it. "You're the star," he said.

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper hosted the Kodak Theatre ceremony that was attended by about 4,000 people and will air on CNN at 9 p.m. EST Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, and on CNN International and CNN en Espanol.

Leona Lewis, Carrie Underwood and Maxwell performed, and other presenters included Nicole Kidman and George Lopez.

The awards show, which is unusual for a TV news network, was created in 2007 after CNN producers and correspondents talked about meeting many unsung heroes, said Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide.

"We do something that's not done -- shine a light on everyday people that do extraordinary work," Walton said before the event.

The 10 finalists were selected from more than 9,000 submissions by a panel that included former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Turner. The winner was chosen online by the public, with nearly 3 million votes cast.

Others honored Saturday were:

-- Brad Blauser, Dallas and Baghdad, who started a wheelchair distribution program for Iraqi children.

-- Roy Foster, West Palm Beach, Fla., an Army veteran who helps veterans battling addiction and homelessness.

-- Doc Hendley, Boone, N.C., a bartender who raises money to fund clean-water initiatives worldwide.

-- Betty Makoni, Essex, England, founder of an organization for young victims of sexual abuse.

-- Jorge Munoz, Queens, N.Y., a school bus driver who helps feed the hungry.

-- Budi Soehardi, Singapore, founder of a children's home in one of the poorest areas of Indonesia.

-- Derrick Tabb, New Orleans, founder of a free music education program for young people in his city.

-- Jordan Thomas, Chattanooga, Tenn., who lost his legs in a boating accident and raises money to buy prosthetics for needy children.